Careless Love is a short film, running to just ten minutes, from 1976. It is directed and written by Francine Winham (essentially a student project) and stars Jane Asher and Richard Heffer of Colditz fame.
I like short films, and short stories in fact (In print I thoroughly recommend Bruce Robinson's Paranoia In The Launderette) They have to get to the point very quickly so it often seems like not a word or a shot is wasted. They also tend to have stings in the tail which invariably satisfies the audience in a way that longer works simply do not. Careless Love has just such a sting, as it swiftly spins off into a blackly comic tale.
It opens to the strains of the jazz standard that the title lends from. As the song plays we see Jane Asher's character Lucy receiving her beau, Heffer's Mark, and his gift of a bunch of red roses. The ultimate in romance you might say. She positively glows in accepting them and hurries into the kitchen to find a suitable place for them. However, none seem available and with a shrug, and a mild expression of frustration, she simply deposits them in the peddle bin!
So far, so BBC sitcom/hidden gem Love Soup, which would much later also amuse us of the peculiarities of the mating rituals to a jazz standard score a'la Woody Allen. It's an amusing opening scene but more; it tells the viewer something key about Lucy's character, something that will make sense of the events to follow, because for Lucy, if something doesn't fit-however much you invest in it-you simply have to dispose of it.
The next scene starts the film proper as the soundtrack fades out and we find ourselves, clearly sometime later, in a suitably 1970s living room. The TV flickers snowy in the corner and the room seems vacant...until hands appear from the sofa, stretching contentedly. The camera finds our lovers, lying blissfully in each others arms. Heffer's Mark looks the epitome of open necked middle class cultured machismo whilst Jane Asher's Lucy seems, at first, to predate the actresses own serene homemaker future in a high belted russet outfit that appears practical yet fashionable and indicative of the era.
In the possibly post coital cosiness, Lucy and Mark discuss how well things are between them and how happy they are with one another. Lucy then dreamily asks Mark to marry her.
Mark is horrified. He pulls away from the embrace, rises up and proceeds to tell Lucy just why it would not be possible for him to marry her, much to her shocked expression; Asher's natural alabaster skin becoming, well, ashen!
Lucy has been married before it seems, to a man called Gerald who passed away and who Mark had known. Mark explains quite vociferously that he could never marry someone who had been married previously, and more, he could never marry someone who has children. Lucy has two you see, babies, and right on cue, thanks to Mark's appalled reaction and raised voice they begin to stir upstairs. Lucy scurries off to deal with them, suitably shell shocked, leaving Mark to settle down with his newspaper, but he cannot because of the noise. Mark is clearly a spineless demanding git who is too boneheaded to realise his loud voice has woken the babies and therefore it is his fault in the first place that he can't get that moment's peace.
Oh yeah, Mark's a charmer.
Finally the children quieten down as quickly as they were roused and with a smug smile of relief, Mark returns to his paper. Lucy returns, and Mark compliments on her swiftness in getting the kids back off. He asks her how she did it, and Lucy replies matter of factly "I put them to sleep" standing before him like a child waiting for a kind word or praise.
It doesn't take long for Lucy to clarify just what she means; she has killed her babies.
For Lucy, it's a straightforward solution; Mark didn't want to be with her long term because she had children, ergo get rid of the children and Lucy's perfect future with the man she loves will become true.
Naturally, this appals Mark and he challenges her, querying her mental stability. How could a mother kill her own babies? It's clearly repulsive. Shaken, he's lost for words, before ultimately saying "I need a drink"
Jane's acting, indeed her whole physicality her as a performer is brilliant. From the confused and surprised expression on her face when she realises that what she has done is not what Mark wanted right through to her slumping, defeated, on the sofa they had previously canoodled on, to the brilliant moment in which she uses arguably her greatest asset; her vibrant flowing red hair, as she tosses her head up, revealing her face once more-and the idea within her-upon Mark's request for something to drink.
The final few shots play out in silence once more, before Careless Love strikes up again. Lucy, ever obedient and eager to please dashes off to fulfil her beau's request. Meanwhile Mark, clearly struggling with her murderous actions, shuffles round the room, shivering. He eventually fetches his coat. His intentions are clear to us, he's leaving and for good.
Lucy returns and hands Mark his drink which he swallows quickly, eager to get out of there. He makes to move, but as we've already surmised, whatever was in it is clearly quick acting, and he convulses before slumping over the chair, Lucy watching his death throes perfectly calmly. Clearly Mark's intentions were equally clear to Lucy, indeed they have been ever since she shot her head up from the sofa, and in another example of her philosophy regarding something no longer working or fitting right, she disposes of him.
A kind of 'if I can't have him, no one can', which is in keeping with the eventual theme of the title song. And, of course, I find myself now wondering, admittedly a few hours after viewing, if first husband Gerald suffered a similar fate? ;)
But it's up to the audience, who are either smiling wickedly or staring shocked. The blackly comic tale fades to a suitable black.